I recently spent two weeks traveling in the lovely country of Belgium, where I dived headfirst into drinking my way through so many delicious beers I’d never heard of and beers I certainly can’t buy at home. I visited breweries, well-known beer cafes, hole-in-the-wall bars, nearly every bottle shop I saw and I also attended a beer festival. I know for a lot of beer lovers and industry pros here in the US Belgian beers are highly regarded and often hyped to extremes. And while I absolutely would rather be drinking Belgian blondes and faro lambics daily, there’s a lot more to the beer culture in Belgium than just hype. There’s a long history and respect for beer and its place in daily life. Here’s my breakdown–I hope it inspires you to travel, or if not, perhaps just incorporate some of the following thoughts into your love of (Belgian) beer.
Unless you’ve been living under a sober rock, you’ve probably noticed a lot of beers focusing on a particular hop varietal: Citra®. Even if you haven’t noticed the hype, you’ve very likely consumed a lot of Citra® anyway. At 10 years on the market, it’s not really a “new” hop, but its quickly-growing popularity with consumers and brewers has influenced hop farmers to plant heavily. In fact, Yakima Chief Hops and the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service claim Citra® is the leading variety planted in the Pacific Northwest in 2018! And as you know, Washington state produces 75% of the nation’s hops–meaning that a whole lot of the nation is excited about Citra®. Why exactly has Citra® snagged the hearts and palates of millions?
Who need a witty introduction when you have these two superstars? Because if you’re not excited at the idea of a stout with bacon then I probably can’t convince you to be. But I hopefully don’t need to try. Go do this. Get a nice, balanced stout–not too sweet, and with a good minerality. A noticeable but not overpowering roast. As for the bacon: let’s get it straight. Not all bacon is created equal. Yes, maybe it’s all delicious, but there’s a real difference between your supermarket pre-cut, packaged slices and a bacon that’s made from happy pigs by happy butchers. If you can, check out some at your local farmer’s market or a small butcher shop. Or, make your own! It’s actually not as hard as it seems. I promise.
If I had to pick one berry to eat for the rest of my life, I’d pick raspberries. The queen of berries to me: sweet and tart, soft and seedy, best friends with cream and chocolate…I could wax for a while, but luckily I don’t have to live on one berry alone. However you feel about raspberries, I hope you can imagine them paired with a lovely beer. And I’ve got just that…and a regal beer as well.
I’m very much for creative license and freedom to experiment in beer, but I think most of us can agree that as consumers, styles designations are incredibly helpful. Happily, there are so many styles and sub-styles of beer! Most of us have a preference for certain ones–knowing the general range of flavors, aromas, carbonation and mouthfeel of the beer you’re ordering is a helpful tool. You wouldn’t feel so confident in the taste of a pilsner if it poured brown, now would you? No way. You’d assume it was someone else’s beer, and send it back. Just like any other food product, different malts have different flavors mostly based on their level of roast or caramelization.
Ah, the helles lager. Munich’s answer to the craze of the Czech pilsener, slightly more malt focused and breathlessly clean–in fact, “helles” translates to “bright” in German. A bright lager for all your food pairing desires. And it is certainly versatile. You could put this beer on the table with many classic European cuisines and it wouldn’t be out of place. But I have a different idea in mind: hummus! A middle-eastern classic and a contemporary Western convenience/party food favorite, the lovely combination of garbanzo, tahini, lemon, garlic and salt…a hearty plant-focused snack. So it’s likely you’ve had hummus on a table with other dips and spreads alongside whatever beer was on offer–but I’m making a case for the helles lager today.
As the weather turns to sunny and warm, I inevitably start craving different styles of beer. A lot of the world has no problem drinking stouts all year long, and lagers and lightweight IPAs are always great during summer, but my thoughts mostly turn to effervescent saisons and witbiers. The east coast has an ongoing enjoyment of cream ales, amber lagers and white beer, but over here on the west side a good wit isn’t always easy to find. Wits are often overshadowed by hoppier ales or worse, suffer from an association with the few prominent macro white beer brands that occupy a large space on shelves and in bars. Witbiers have a long, interesting history, involve real creativity, recipe balancing and often complicated brewing methods.
So, it’s not exactly tomato soup weather today. It’s a beautiful and sunny warm (some might even say “hot”) day in the NW. There are those of us out there for whom soup knows no season, though. So put this pairing away for a gloomy day (you never know when those will pop up here) or nab it now for a quick and easy and satisfying lunch or weeknight dinner idea. 30 minute meals are better with beer, am I right?
Except for a few notable styles, the majority of beer is a beverage best enjoyed fresh. It’s a natural product containing a variety of fermented malted grains and some residual yeast and hop matter. While a some larger breweries may choose to pasteurize their beer for longer shelf-stability, most craft beer as a finished product is a little more “alive,” and has instead either rested long enough in the tank (lagered) to be clear, undergone a fining or filtering process or has been centrifuged to remove larger matter that could contribute to a shorter timeline of decent flavor and appearance for you the consumer.
Black-eyed peas are wonderful legumes. Despite not being the most photogenic food, they are earthy, sweet, versatile, easy to cook–no wonder they have a solid place in American cuisine. You’re most likely to find them in southern or soul food recipes, but they go great with lots of accompaniments (or as an accompaniment). P.S. They go great with cornbread! Because they are so sweet, I usually like to make them with a decent amount of vegetables in the pot, and especially with peppers. The grassy flavor really works for them. So what to drink with black-eyed peas? Well, your first thought is probably some sort of lager, which wouldn’t be wrong, especially alongside a richer barbecue plate. But I like matching like with like sometimes (which can be tricky) so I am recommending you try a bière de garde as complement. A bière de garde is an old-school French style of ale that is meant for “keeping” as the language indicates. It’s usually somewhat malty (this one I chose, a homebrewed version, is a bit darker in color and flavor) and most examples have a nice level of yeast flavor and esters included. Versions really vary, but this is the basic profile.